Tag Archives: Harvard Medical School

Becoming a Doctor: Med School Admissions

The traditional path to becoming a physician in the United States is to obtain an MD (allopathic) degree from a US medical school.  This blog will provide a brief overview of the application process to medical school, and is part of a series discussing a variety of paths to practicing medicine.

Over the past decade, the number of medical schools and the number of applicants has steadily increased. The AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) has recommended a 30 percent increase in the number of physicians, in order to address a physician shortage and increased longevity of patients.  Indeed, there are now 151 US med schools, including almost 20 newly accredited med schools in the past decade. During this period, enrollment in US med schools has increased 19% from 75,800 in 2008-2009 to 89,900 in 2017-18.

Yet during this same period, the number of applicants has increased at an even higher rate of 23%, from 42,200 to 51,700. As a result, medical school admissions has become increasingly competitive. The most important factors in admissions remain the numbers, while qualitative factors serve to further differentiate the applicants.

Quantitative Admissions Factors

Your GPA and MCAT score play a significant role in medical school admissions.

GPA

Medical schools look at your overall GPA, as well as your GPA within science and math specifically.

Generally, applicants to medical school are required to take the following courses:

  • 1 year of biology
  • 1 year of physics
  • 2 years of chemistry (through organic chemistry)
  • 1 year of English
  • 1 year of calculus

Some medical schools are more specific about their requirements. For example, Harvard Medical School requires that the chemistry courses include inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry; and that the math includes 1 semester of calculus and 1 semester of statistics (preferably biostatistics). Stanford Medical School also recommends that students take courses in the behavioral and social sciences.

MCAT

In April 2015, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) officially launched a new version of the MCAT, the MCAT15 “to help better prepare tomorrow’s doctors for the rapidly advancing and transforming health care system.” The new MCAT is double in length, includes a fourth section on the social sciences, and has a revamped scoring system. The four sections include:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills
  • Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior

Each section receives a score ranging from 472 to 528, with 500 as the mean.

See our blog for a detailed discussion of the structure and scoring of the MCAT, and average MCAT scores for selected med schools.

The chart below shows the strong impact of GPA and MCAT scores on acceptance rates. An acceptance rate of about 50% or above requires an MCAT score above 506 (500 is the national average) and a GPA of about 3.6.  For example, a student with a GPA of 3.4-3.59 and an MCAT score of 498-501 would have a 20% acceptance rate; where a student with a GPA of 3.6-3.79 and an MCAT of 506-509 would have a 54% acceptance rate.

Qualitative Admissions Factors

While the academic factors of grades and test scores serve as a screening mechanism, qualitative factors impact which students progress to the next level of receiving secondary applications and interview requests.  The primary qualitative factors are a student’s medically-related experiences and recommendations.

Medically-Related Experiences

The education required to become a physician, as well as the practice of medicine itself, are so rigorous that medical schools want to see evidence that an applicant is thoroughly aware of these demands and has engaged in relevant activities throughout college. These include the four pillars of:

  • Research, including either bench work in a lab, or clinical research with patients.
  • Clinical work, such as volunteering at a nursing home or hospital, or helping doctors with patient research.
  • Shadowing doctors, preferably in a variety of specialties.
  • Community service that shows compassion and your desire to help people.

There are many paths to becoming a doctor.  Some students are passionate about pursuing a career in medicine, but are not competitive for US allopathic medical schools, as a result of grades, test scores, or relevant experience.  In this situation, two viable options are to attend a US osteopathic medical school and receive a DO degree, or to attend medical school in the Caribbean.

For further guidance on the medical school admissions and application process, contact us at www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

Applying to Med School: The Importance of Secondary Applications

If you are applying to medical school for the Class of 2022, chances are you have completed your AMCAS Personal Statement, and are in the final stages of perfecting a powerful discussion of why you want to become a physician.

Take a breath… and then begin to prepare for individual medical school’s secondary applications! The purpose of secondary (or supplemental) applications is to further differentiate among candidates, and to determine whether you’d be a good fit for the particular medical school.

Who Receives Secondaries

Most schools, such as Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Yale School of Medicine and the University of Michigan Medical School, send all of their applicants a secondary. Some schools, such as Harvard Medical School and the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, send all “verified” applicants a secondary, meaning that they wait until AMCAS verifies the student’s transcript.

Others review the primary AMCAS application holistically, and are selective in determining who receives supplemental applications, such as Emory School of Medicine. For example, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine has three independent evaluators review the AMCAS application for academic accomplishment, motivation, personal qualities, leadership skills and educational background, and offers secondaries to only about one-third of its applicants.

A few others have no secondaries, such as University of Rochester.

The Timing of Secondaries

Try to submit your primary AMCAS application as close as possible to June 5th, the day that the 2018 AMCAS application submission begins, and certainly by the end of June. The sooner you submit, the sooner your application will be reviewed.

You can expect to receive secondaries from late June through December. You may even receive secondaries before your AMCAS application is verified. If you submit your primary AMCAS application in June, you will likely be completing your secondaries in July and August. Secondary applications are time sensitive, in that the faster you return them to the institution, the more strongly you convey your enthusiasm for that school. A quality secondary application submitted within one to two weeks will increase your likelihood of getting an interview.

Secondary Essay Prompts

Once you submit your primary AMCAS, you can begin preparing for secondaries, which typically include a variety of essays on assigned topics, such as the following:

  • Define a physician.
  • Tell us about your diverse talents, experiences, opinions, and backgrounds. What would you bring to the medical school community?
  • Why do you feel that you are a good fit for our particular medical school?
  • Are you expecting to go on to medical school directly after completing your undergraduate degree? If no, explain.
  • Describe the personal accomplishment that makes you most proud. Why is this important to you?
  • Where do you see your future medical career (academic medicine, research, public health, primary care, business/law, etc.) and why?
  • Please describe a challenge you faced and how you addressed it.
Unusual prompts

While there is great overlap among many of the secondary prompts, some medical schools offer unusual prompts such as those below:

  • What challenges do you expect to arise from living and working in a complex urban environment? How will you meet them?
  • Are there any areas of medicine that are of particular interest to you? If so, please comment.
  • Write a sentence that is not true, then tell us why you wish it were.
  • What is the most fun you’ve had lately?

Secondary Application Tips

Start brainstorming, outlining and drafting the above essays so that you can respond quickly. Here are some tips for writing the most effective secondaries:

  • Provide new information.Remember that the admissions committees have already seen your transcript, primary AMCAS personal statement and activity essays.
  • Show your fit with the program.Make a compelling case for why you are a good fit for each medical school. Research the school’s academic programs and approach to clinical practice. Follow them on social media to learn more. Does the school require research or a thesis? Be specific about the resources at the medical school that you will take advantage of, and the unique strengths you will bring.
  • Answer the prompt. Though it is sometimes effective to recycle other essays (see below), always make sure you’re answering the question fully and directly.
  • Connect your past, present and future.How have your past experiences influenced the person you are today? How do your future goals link with your talents, accomplishments and values?Proofread and edit. Carve out enough time in your schedule to edit several drafts for each essay. It takes time to ensure that your essays are well-written and represent you both strongly and authentically.
  • Stay organized. Create a spreadsheet listing your medical schools, dates that you received and submitted secondaries, secondary essay topics, and dates of interviews.
  • Take advantage of overlaps.Evaluate the various secondary essay prompts of your medical schools to see if there are any commonalities. Adapt essays for additional medical schools, but only if appropriate.

Applying to medical school is a challenging process, and the secondaries are no exception. For more information and guidance, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.

Taking a Gap Year before Medical School

Deciding when to attend medical school—and therefore when to apply—is one of the most important decisions that you’ll face as an applicant. Sometimes, taking a gap year before applying can be a beneficial decision, both personally and academically. To make the best use of a gap year, students should reflect on their career goals, and use the time to both confirm their interest in medicine and strengthen their candidacy for medical school.

According to Washington University in St. Louis, students should choose gap year activities carefully, and seek ways to grow as a competitive, interesting applicant.

“For example, a student with a marginal GPA would be best served by using that GAP year to strengthen his or her academic record more than taking time off to travel abroad to engage in volunteer work. Likewise, someone with strong academic credentials but no experience in medically related activities would best be served using that time to engage in activities that demonstrate a capacity and passion for such work. Either way, it’s best to always “stay connected” to medicine during this year off. Unless you are an academic superstar with a stellar record in every way, I would be very careful using your GAP year to simply travel the world and nothing else. Use your time wisely. For a great list of ideas, check out GAP Year Resources.”

Taking a gap year or years before medical school is common and encouraged. In 2015-16, the mean age of applicants at anticipated matriculation to medical school was 24 years old for women and 25 years old for men (AAMC).

Robert J. Mayer, faculty associate dean of admissions at Harvard Medical School, has noticed an increasing trend of applicants taking a gap year over his ten years in admissions at HMS. “[When I first started] about 60 percent were coming out of college. Now, it’s about 35 percent.”

According to Duke University, more than 75% of Duke students apply to medical school after they graduate, and the average age among the incoming Duke Medical School class is 24. Duke’s Office of Health Professions Advising states, “Students who engage in a year or more of experiential activity after graduation and before entering a health professions school are more mature, resilient, confident, and accomplished… and competitive.”

Northwestern University’s Academic Advising Center notes the struggle pre-meds face in managing the application process alongside the responsibilities of being an upperclassman:

“Balancing school, extracurricular activities, clinical volunteer experience and research is difficult enough. Throw in the MCAT, medical school applications, and interviews and the task can be truly overwhelming. A year spent working, completing a post-bac program, volunteering or doing research prior to applying to medical school, known as a “gap year” or a “bridge year” can be a great option! In fact, about 60% of NU students who are accepted to medical school take at least one (sometimes more!) gap/bridge year(s).”

In addition to taking a break after college to recharge and reflect, there are a number of ways you can use your gap year to make yourself a stronger applicant.

Strengthen Your Academics:

Improve your GPA. Most students see their academic records improve during their senior year; you have more control over the courses you take, you’re used to the college environment, and more of your courses are within your chosen major. The transcript you submit to medical schools during your senior year might look different than the one you’d submit a year later, after you’ve finished your undergraduate coursework. Waiting a year to apply to med school gives you an additional semester to take extra and/or high level coursework that could strengthen your academic record. Moreover, taking extra time gives you the opportunity to enroll in a post-bac program (more on these below) to improve your GPA during the year you are applying. If you are concerned that you may be applying with a less than ideal GPA, here are some more helpful tips.

Study for the MCAT exam. Studying for the MCAT while balancing a full-course load, an internship, and the rest of your many responsibilities can be quite challenging. Taking time off can be a great way to give yourself extra study time. Most importantly, it allows you the flexibility to retake the test if you are unhappy with your results the first time around.

Gain Medically-Related Experience

Gaining real-world perspectives on medicine can reinforce whether medicine is the right path for you; and if so, help you explore which areas of medicine most interest you. In addition, it can also strengthen your admissions chances. There are many ways in which you can gain experience in the field. Here are some the best:

Research: Participating in laboratory or clinical research is a phenomenal way to explore the field of medicine with an especially scientific focus. While many students pursue research while on campus during the school year, there are also numerous research opportunities at medical schools and research centers over the summer and beyond. Just like finding the right job or internship, it is important to find a research position that is a good fit for your abilities, interests, and goals. So do your research!

Volunteer Work: 
Medically-related volunteer opportunities are a great way to give back while also gaining hands-on experience. Working with patients in a clinical setting is beneficial for your own professional development and in the application process. Almost all volunteer efforts will help you to develop communication skills, motivation and teamwork. And sometimes, they’ll provide you with a good reference!

It can be equally beneficial to work for a local organization, such as a hospital or community clinic, or a national organization, such as Americorps or GlobeMed; it depends on the particular opportunity available, and whether it matches your interests. There are many resources to help you find volunteer opportunities, including the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), and the International Medical Volunteers Association. As always, the trick is to find an opportunity that matches your interests and rounds out your experiences.

Post Baccalaureate Programs:  Post-bac programs are especially useful for students who need to bolster their GPAs. They also allow college graduates to fill gaps in their academic record by taking one or all of the courses required to apply to medical school. Some post-bac programs cater to career changers (those who need to complete most or all of the science core), and others to academic enhancers (those who have completed the core but are taking advanced science electives to improve their science GPA, or prepare for the MCAT), and some accept both. Programs are offered across the country, by colleges large (e.g. CornellUSC) and small (e.g. BrandeisBryn Mawr)

Additionally, some programs, such as those offered by Columbia University and NYU, offer “linkage programs” with their affiliated medical schools. These programs help especially competitive students “link” directly into the university’s medical school following the completion of the post-bac program. 

Pay Down Debt

According to the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), the median debt for medical students graduating in 2015 was $183,000.  It’s important, therefore, to try to limit any other debts you might have beforehand. A recent US News article recommends paying particular attention to credit card balances, as having a high amount of consumer debt can limit your ability to borrow money to pay for medical school.

There are many reasons, both personal and professional, to take a gap year before applying to medical school, and there are a variety of ways to use that time productively and effectively. For more information, or to talk about the best options for you, contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help.

Applying to Med School: The Importance of Secondary Applications

If you are applying to medical school for the Class of 2020, chances are you have completed your AMCAS Personal Statement, and are in the final stages of perfecting a powerful discussion of why you want to become a physician. Take a breath… and then begin to prepare for individual medical school’s secondary applications! The purpose of secondary, or supplemental, applications is to further differentiate among candidates, and to determine whether you’d be a good fit for the particular medical school.

Who Receives Secondaries

Most schools, such as Harvard Medical School, the Alpert Medical School of Brown University and the University of Michigan Medical School, send all of their applicants a secondary. Others review the primary AMCAS application holistically, and are selective in determining who receives supplemental applications. For example, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine has three independent evaluators review the AMCAS application for academic accomplishment, motivation, personal qualities, leadership skills and educational background, and offers secondaries to only about one-third of its applicants.

The Timing of Secondaries

Try to submit your primary AMCAS application as close as possible to June 2nd, the day that the 2015 AMCAS application submission begins, and certainly by the end of June. The sooner you submit, the sooner your application will be reviewed.

You can expect to receive secondaries from late June through December. You may even receive secondaries before your AMCAS application is verified. If you submit your primary AMCAS application in June, you will likely be completing your secondaries in July and August. Secondary applications are time sensitive, in that the faster you return them to the institution, the stronger your enthusiasm for that school comes across. A quality secondary application submitted within one to two weeks will increase your likelihood of getting an interview.

Secondary Essay Prompts

Once you submit your primary AMCAS, you can begin preparing for secondaries, which typically include a variety of essays on assigned topics, such as the following:

  • Define a physician.
  • Tell us about your diverse talents, experiences, opinions, and backgrounds. What would you bring to the medical school community?
  • Why do you feel that you are a good fit for our particular medical school?
  • If you are not attending college during the upcoming academic year, what are your plans?
  • Describe the personal accomplishment that makes you most proud. Why is this important to you?
  • Please describe a challenge you faced and how you addressed it.
  • Is there any additional information you would like to share?

Start brainstorming, outlining and drafting the above essays so that you can respond quickly. Here are some tips for writing the most effective secondaries:

  • Provide new information. Remember that the admissions committees have already seen your transcript, primary AMCAS personal statement and activity essays.
  • Be specific. Make a compelling case for why you are a good fit for each medical school. Research the school’s academic programs and approach to clinical practice. Does the school require research or a thesis? Be specific about the resources at the medical school that you will take advantage of, and the unique strengths you will bring.
  • Answer the prompt. Though it is sometimes effective to recycle other essays (see below), always make sure you’re answering the question fully and directly.
  • Connect your past, present and future. How have your past experiences influenced the person you are today? How do your future goals link with your talents, accomplishments and values?
  • Take advantage of overlaps. Evaluate the various secondary essay prompts of your medical schools to see if there are any commonalities. Adapt essays for additional medical schools, but only if appropriate.
  • Proofread and edit. Carve out enough time in your schedule to edit several drafts for each essay. It takes time to ensure that your essays represent you strongly and authentically, and are well-written.

Applying to medical school is a challenging process, and the secondaries are no exception. For more information and guidance, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.

Trends in Medical School Curricula

As our healthcare systems continuously evolve, medical education must follow accordingly. Although each medical school continues to offer its own unique curriculum, curricula as a whole are following several overriding trends. These changes, outlined below, are intended to strengthen the academic experience of students, while creating more versatile and well-rounded physicians.

Starting clinical work earlier

Many schools have begun to phase out the traditional structure of medical education: two years of pre-clinical, basic science work followed by two years of clinical work. By starting clinical training earlier on in their education, students are able to utilize and expand their hands-on doctoring skills right from the start. This helps students hone their clinical skills, and enables them to apply knowledge from the classroom to relevant real-world situations.

However, med schools are approaching this change in very different ways. On one end of the spectrum, schools such as Duke and Vanderbilt have moved to an extremely accelerated curriculum with only one year of the core basic sciences, followed by core clinical clerkships beginning in year two. Similarly, Harvard has announced that in August of 2015 they will launch a new curriculum, Pathways, that also condenses the basic sciences to the first year.

On the other hand, Mount Sinai has maintained the structure of starting formalized clinical clerkships in the third year, but during year one, med students are partnered with patients to begin a longitudinal clinical experience. Several other medical schools, including Weill and Perelman, have struck a middle ground: students learn the core basic sciences for one and half years, with core clinical clerkships beginning in January of year two.

More flexibility

By finishing core clinical work earlier, students are granted greater flexibility in the third and fourth years, allowing for research opportunities and an abundance of elective choices. At Duke School of Medicine, students dedicate a full year to a scholarly research experience. During this year, students may pursue research or a dual degree, while also completing electives, some standard coursework, and studying for the Step 1 Exam. Similarly, Weill Cornell students are required to select an Area of Concentration (AOC) midway through their third year; these range from global health to neuroinflammation. Students choose their AOC based on personal interest, and then work to obtain in-depth knowledge, skills, and a scholarly project within that particular area.

More interdisciplinary coursework

Physicians must develop a diverse skill set to successfully navigate an increasingly complex healthcare environment. As a result, several schools have carefully crafted their curricula to include courses and themes that span beyond the basic and clinical sciences. This fosters a more interdisciplinary approach, with an emphasis on topics such as health policy, ethics, and population health. In fact, Albert Einstein College of Medicine incorporates a theme of population health into already existing courses and clerkships.

To cater to students with more interdisciplinary interests, many schools offer dual degrees, including an MD/PhD, MD/MPH, and MD/MBA. Certain schools also offer dual degrees in areas such as health policy, clinical investigation and bioethics.

Shortening the duration of a medical education

Partly as a result of the earlier clinical training, several med schools, such as NYU, have begun to offer a pilot “three-year pathway” program. The 3-year program is very similar to the core 4-year MD program, except that 3-year MD students start rotations in their chosen specialty six weeks earlier and spend their first summer pursuing a research fellowship in that same department. These students declare their specialty when they apply, and are guaranteed residencies in an NYU-affiliated hospital. This way, students don’t have to worry about matching into residency programs that may still be wary of the 3-year medical degree.

There is ongoing debate as to whether or not shortening the medical school education is beneficial. In a New England Journal of Medicine perspective piece, Drs. Goldfarb and Morrison state “Given the growing complexity of medicine, it seems counterproductive to compress the curriculum into 3 years, reducing both preclinical and clinical experiences.” Yet, in another Perspective piece, the authors claimed that a shorter medical school education could alleviate the physician shortage by producing physicians at a faster rate, and substantially reduce student debt. Dr. Steven Abramson, vice dean for education, faculty and academic affairs at NYU School of Medicine, predicts: “You’re going to see this kind of three-year pathway become very prominent across the country.”

Emphasis on problem-based learning

Medical education is also increasingly incorporating problem-based learning (PBL) into the pre-clinical years. This technique utilizes clinical cases to stimulate discussion among a small group of students, thereby creating a real-life, collaborative and active learning environment. For example, at Feinberg School of Medicine, each PBL is comprised of 6 to 9 students and a faculty facilitator. The overall PBL process “mimics the manner in which a practicing physician obtains data from a patient.” This enables students to further develop skills essential to becoming a successful physician, such as teamwork and communication.

Most schools have established an effective mix of PBL and standard lecture-based teaching. The Integrated Pathways Curriculum at SUNY Downstate, for example, offers reduced lecture time in favor of a greater emphasis on small-group learning such as PBL. 

For more information on medical education or any other part of the medical school application process, contact Collegiate Gateway – as always, we’re happy to help.